My analysis of Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”
Today I thought I would post an analysis of Wordsworth’s Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. For your benefit, I will post the poem in its entirety below.
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight To me did seem Apparelled in celestial light, The glory and the freshness of a dream. It is not now as it hath been of yore;-- Turn wheresoe'er I may, By night or day, The things which I have seen I now can see no more. The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where'er I go, That there hath past away a glory from the earth. Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song, And while the young lambs bound As to the tabor's sound, To me alone there came a thought of grief: A timely utterance gave that thought relief, And I again am strong. The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep,-- No more shall grief of mine the season wrong: I hear the echoes through the mountains throng. The winds come to me from the fields of sleep, And all the earth is gay; Land and sea Give themselves up to jollity, And with the heart of May Doth every beast keep holiday;-- Thou child of joy, Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy Shepherd-boy! Ye blesséd Creatures, I have heard the call Ye to each other make; I see The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee; My heart is at your festival, My head hath its coronal, The fulness of your bliss, I feel--I feel it all. O evil day! if I were sullen While Earth herself is adorning This sweet May-morning; And the children are culling On every side In a thousand valleys far and wide Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm, And the babe leaps up on his mother's arm:-- I hear, I hear, with joy I hear! --But there's a tree, of many, one, A single field which I have look'd upon, Both of them speak of something that is gone: The pansy at my feet Doth the same tale repeat: Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream? Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting And cometh from afar; Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing Boy, But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, He sees it in his joy; The Youth, who daily farther from the east Must travel, still is Nature's priest, And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended; At length the Man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day. Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own; Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind, And, even with something of a mother's mind, And no unworthy aim, The homely nurse doth all she can To make her foster-child, her inmate, Man, Forget the glories he hath known, And that imperial palace whence he came. Behold the Child among his new-born blisses, A six years' darling of a pigmy size! See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies, Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses, With light upon him from his father's eyes! See, at his feet, some little plan or chart, Some fragment from his dream of human life, Shaped by himself with newly-learned art; A wedding or a festival, A mourning or a funeral; And this hath now his heart, And unto this he frames his song: Then will he fit his tongue To dialogues of business, love, or strife; But it will not be long Ere this be thrown aside, And with new joy and pride The little actor cons another part; Filling from time to time his 'humorous stage' With all the Persons, down to palsied Age, That life brings with her in her equipage; As if his whole vocation Were endless imitation. Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie Thy soul's immensity; Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind, That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep, Haunted for ever by the eternal Mind,-- Mighty Prophet! Seer blest! On whom those truths rest Which we are toiling all our lives to find, In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave; Thou, over whom thy Immortality Broods like the day, a master o'er a slave, A Presence which is not to be put by; To whom the grave Is but a lonely bed, without the sense of sight Of day or the warm light, A place of thoughts where we in waiting lie; Thou little child, yet glorious in the might Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height, Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke The years to bring the inevitable yoke, Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife? Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight, And custom lie upon thee with a weight Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life! 0 joy! that in our embers Is something that doth live, That Nature yet remembers What was so fugitive! The thought of our past years in me doth breed Perpetual benediction: not indeed For that which is most worthy to be blest, Delight and liberty, the simple creed Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest, With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:-- --Not for these I raise The song of thanks and praise; But for those obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things, Fallings from us, vanishings, Blank misgivings of a creature Moving about in worlds not realized, High instincts, before which our mortal nature Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised: But for those first affections, Those shadowy recollections, Which, be they what they may, Are yet the fountain-light of all our day, Are yet a master-light of all our seeing; Uphold us--cherish--and have power to make Our noisy years seem moments in the being Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake, To perish never; Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour, Nor man nor boy, Nor all that is at enmity with joy, Can utterly abolish or destroy! Hence, in a season of calm weather Though inland far we be, Our souls have sight of that immortal sea Which brought us hither; Can in a moment travel thither-- And see the children sport upon the shore, And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore. Then, sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song! And let the young lambs bound As to the tabor's sound! We, in thought, will join your throng, Ye that pipe and ye that play, Ye that through your hearts to-day Feel the gladness of the May! What though the radiance which was once so bright Be now for ever taken from my sight, Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind; In the primal sympathy Which having been must ever be; In the soothing thoughts that spring Out of human suffering; In the faith that looks through death, In years that bring the philosophic mind. And 0, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves, Forebode not any severing of our loves! Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might; I only have relinquish'd one delight To live beneath your more habitual sway; I love the brooks which down their channels fret Even more than when I tripp'd lightly as they; The innocent brightness of a new-born day Is lovely yet; The clouds that gather round the setting sun Do take a sober colouring from an eye That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality; Another race hath been, and other palms are won. Thanks to the human heart by which we live, Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears (Wordsworth, poets.org).
Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
It is written in eleven stanzas with variable rhyme schemes. It has iambic lines with anything from two to five stressed syllables.
Q: Why is this poem not in perfect rhythm? Why does the meter change? What effect does this have on the reader?
Wordsworth uses personification in this poem. For example:
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare (Wordsworth, poets.org).
The speaker could be sad because nature is lost in world. He also could be sad because he is no longer as “in tune” with nature. As a boy, the speaker understood nature and could enjoy her beauty.
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;–
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more (Wordsworth, poets.org)
Q: Do you think the poem is a reflection of humanities loss of nature or only his own loss of childhood simplicity? Do you think it can be both? Explain.
He certainly does pine for his childhood. He is mourning the loss of his childhood innocence and ability to be more in tune with nature. The speaker looks at nature and is moved by it, but realizes something is lost.
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth (Wordsworth, poets.org).
He grieves for loss of innocence, but becomes happy when he realizes that not all is lost for he can still experience nature even if his senses are not as acute as when he was younger.
Wordsworth in this poem shows that children are innocent and can experience things that adults cannot. The speaker gives thanks to the human heart and imagination because the heart still has access to childhood memories. Through memories adults can “obtain” some of their innocence. The speaker also could be saying that we knew something before birth that is waiting for us after death.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy! (Wordsworth, poets.org)
Q: Is he talking about reincarnation or life with God before we are born?
The speaker then seems to fade out of his dream like state of remembering and come back to reality. He comes to terms with the fact that he has lived his life and grew up having adult struggles that are different then childhood experiences.
Another race hath been, and other palms are won (Wordsworth, poets.org).
This is a metaphor for having lived his life. It also alludes to the Olympics and the feats Greeks performed to win palms. In the end, the speaker shows his love of nature and how moved he is by it.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears (Wordsworth, poets.org)
Q: Can you recall a time that you were moved this strongly? How do you interpret this last stanza?
Thanks for reading, please post your comments below!
- Intimations of Immortality (gregghake.com)
- Wordsworth’s Ode to Duty (lightandtruthonline.com)
- The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth (thebardonthehill.wordpress.com)